Paradigm No. 21, December, 1996

The Choice of Textbooks for Use in Secondary School Geography Departments:
Some Answers and Some Further Questions for Research

David Lambert

Education, Environment and Economy Group,
University of London Institute of Education,
20 Bedford Way,
London WC111 OAL.

 

The following article is based upon a questionnaire 1 conducted with an opportunity sample of Institute of Education initial training "partner schools" in Greater London during the Autumn Term of the academic year 1995-1996. It concerns the textbook choices made by geography departments within the context of the highly competitive free-market economy for textbooks which still exists at all levels of secondary geography education in England and Wales. 2

During the year in question, the Institute’s Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) geography student teachers were placed in 70 partner schools. The questionnaire was distributed to "co-tutors" in schools (normally the head of department) via the "beginning teachers" (BTs) who were encouraged to play an active role in its completion: it was suggested, for example, that the BT might run through the questions orally with the co-tutor and fill in the answers on their behalf. It was felt that not only would this be an interesting and worthwhile activity for the BT in its own right, but it may help the questionnaire move up the things-to-do list of the co-tutor.

Completed questionnaire forms were received by hand, via the BTs, from 47 schools, representing a 67% return. The characteristics of this sample are shown at the beginning of the next section. Though it forms a reasonably balanced sample of the PGCE partnership, the latter is itself a self-selecting group of schools, and the results must therefore be treated with some caution -- especially the temptation to make national generalisations from what are London data. Nevertheless, the sample is large and representative enough to yield information which is of considerable interest to geographers in education, There is evidence of some interesting trends at work in terms of the role of textbooks and textbook selection in London schools.

The origins of this small-scale research lay partly in the needs of Bts. It seemed not unreasonable for BTs to expect reasonably reliable answers to questions such as: What are the most popular geography textbooks in schools today? How much money can a head of department spend on books annually? What level of variety exists in the system in terms of teaching and learning resources? Answers to such questions have perhaps been over-dependent on anecdote and hearsay in the past, and so the obvious solution was to organise a systematic means of finding out. The survey also had its origins in the professional interest of oneself and one’s colleagues in the decision making process regarding resource selection in geography departments, especially since the introduction of the National Curriculum and the steadily increasing control exerted by the centre on the content and shape of GCSE, the terminal examination of compulsory schooling in England and Wales.

Though the time and resources for detailed in-depth case studies were not available, it was decided that a snapshot "opportunity" questionnaire would be useful in helping shape our evolving impressions of current practice. In particular there seemed to be a large disparity between the diversity of textbooks on the market (representing a significant investment by the educational publishing houses) and the rather predictable range of textbooks apparently in use in the schools. Such an impression gives further credence to those questions regularly raised by student teachers: Is it possible to find in schools a diversity of geography textbooks in use? Do geography teachers seek a diverse range of textbook resources? What priority is given to textbooks within the financial constraints of the departmental budget? It also suggests a further question: What are the main criteria that shape textbook purchasing in school geography departments?

Thus the questionnaire was devised and tested informally with a small number of colleagues. It was limited in scope, with a mixture of closed and more open questions, and designed to be completed in about 10-15 minutes of the head of geography’s (or co-tutor’s) time.

Of the 47 schools who returned forms, 40 described themselves as "comprehensive". The sample included one independent school, one "city technical college" (CTC) and one secondary modern school. A group of eight designated themselves as grant-maintained, four of whom also ticked the "comprehensive" box. There were 14 single-sex schools (eight boys’ schools and six girls’ schools). Nearly half the sample (21) were schools of over 1000 pupils on roll and only five schools had fewer than 750. Not surprisingly for PGCE partner schools, most schools claimed a healthy presence of specialist teachers in their geography departments.

 

Table 1. Full-time specialist geography teachers (N of schools)

 

1 (2)

 

2 (16)

 

3 (10)

 

4 (11)

 

5 (2)

 

6 (2)

 

7 (1)

The next table provides an interesting "spin" to this picture, however, showing a significant presence in many schools of "non-specialists" and part-timers, groups which we can presume may have different attitudes towards resources for teaching and learning (and, perhaps, textbooks in particular) from the full-time specialist. It is worth noting that the extent of this issue in the present sample is possibly underplayed as departments offering themselves as training partners are usually not those with perceived staffing problems such as those that are sometimes associated with a preponderance of part-timers or nonspecialists. The Geographical Association in its 1995 survey of 274 secondary school geography departments 3 concluded that "something in the order of one in three teachers of geography do not have a first degree qualification in geography".

 

Table 2. Number of non-specialists teaching geography (N of schools)

 

0 (28)

 

1 (7)

 

2 (5)

 

3 (3)

 

4 (2)

 

7 (1)

 

Table 3. Number of part-time departmental members (N of schools)

 

0 (15)

 

1 (18)

 

2 (6)

 

3(4)

 

4 (2)

 

7 (1)

 Most departments seemed to possess dedicated accommodation; 40 respondents describing at least two specialist geography teaching rooms (and 23 more than three), although no fewer than 15 departments (32%) claimed to have no geography resource or preparation room. The question relating to the organisation of teaching groups in KS3 was difficult to answer straightforwardly as many schools have different arrangements for different year-groups. Apart from one respondent who reported "streamed" groups, and three who chose "setting" as the best way to describe grouping arrangements, children are either grouped in "broad bands" (13 schools [27% of the sample]) or in "mixed-ability" classes (36 schools [77% of the sample]).

There was considerable variation between departmental budgets which seems only partly explained by the different "local" financial arrangements concocted by schools; for example, some departments clearly had to budget for reprographics, stationery and even fieldwork in a few cases, whereas others could direct their disposable income almost exclusively on published learning and teaching materials. Interestingly, one respondent could not say what finances were allocated to geography as this was simply part of a universal "humanities" budget. Seven other schools chose not to respond either because they did not have the information or for some other reason.

Table 4 summarises the budgetary variation amongst the 40 schools which disclosed the figures (two schools failed to provide a 1995-96 Table as they had yet to bid for funding). Though there seems to be some evidence of departments in a tight and constrained financial position, there are others which appear in a more positive light. Though the present survey did not ask for a per capita calculation to be made - and therefore cannot compare figures with the Geographical Association’s (GA) 1995 Table of £2.81 national average per capita geography departmental allowance 4 &emdash; the allowance (in London schools at least) is not always "derisory", to use the GA’s word. On the other hand, as teachers’ salary increases continue to be met without full funding from the centre, the squeeze on departmental allowances is unlikely to be relaxed.

  •  

    Table 4: Annual capitation or disposable income to nearest £50.00 (N of schools in 1994-95 and in 1995-96).

  •  

    £

     

    1994-95

     

    1995-96

     

    £

     

    1994-95

     

    1995-96

     

    0-500

     

    0

     

    1

     

    3001-3500

     

    1

     

    1

     

    501-1000

     

    5

     

    5

     

    3501-4000

     

    3

     

    2

     

    1001-1500

     

    7

     

    6

     

    4001-5000

     

    2

     

    0

     

    1501-2000

     

    7

     

    9

     

    5000-6000

     

    2

     

    2

     

    2001-2500

     

    6

     

    4

     

    >6000

     

    3

     

    3

     

    2501-3000

     

    4

     

    5

     

     

     

     

    It should be noted that these figures exclude parental and other funding of school book purchase, which according to the Educational Publishers’ Council (EPC) 5 is significant in some schools. There was evidence in this survey, however, that other sources were seen as contributing relatively more to non-book expenditure, notably IT and fieldwork.

    Departments were also asked to estimate how their disposable income was allocated to, the major items, information technology, textbooks, reprographics, stationery and like consumables and "other" (which drew two main kinds of response: globes/maps/atlases and fieldwork). Though there was some variation. around the mean, as one would expect, the average of respondents’ estimates are given in Table 5. Although this table may provide a rough guide, several qualifications to these data should be made. Firstly, as several schools pointed out, IT spending can usually be made from "other sources", requiring special (and presumably competitive) bids. Secondly, that a major book purchase may also be made by competitive bid in some schools. Thirdly, that annual departmental spending is, therefore, often "lumpy", with some schools diverting large funds strategically to different subject areas, in the belief that the area is then "equipped" and will make no further call on funds for five or more years.

  •  

    Table 5: Proportion of disposable departmental annual income spent &emdash; "averaged" over a three-year period.

  •  

    Item

     

    Average percent of total funds available

     

    IT (hard & software)

     

    6.4

     

    Textbooks

     

    45.6

     

    Reprographics

     

    22.3

     

    Stationery & consurnables

     

    23.3

     

    Other

     

    5.0

    The following sections summarise the manner in which departments handle their considerable investment in textbooks. Firstly, a summary of what has been bought is presented.

    The temptation merely to list all textbooks named on the questionnaire returns has been resisted. This is in part because each named book does not carry equal worth; a single copy of book y carries less weight than a class set of book x, and the latter still less, presumably, than a year set of book z which, if every pupil has one as her or his "own", becomes the course book. It is also because, despite the clear indication and encouragement for accurate details of title and author, many returns supplied ambiguous or unclear information on some books; usually those of which they had not purchased large numbers. It is also suspected that a number of departments only provided information on books of which they had multiple copies, respondents assuming, perhaps, that only books bought in such numbers can be classified as "textbooks". It would be worthwhile pursuing this query further on another occasion, partly in order to clarify our definitions as well as our influences. Indeed, among the types of books which most influence teachers may be those which -- though designed for multiple-copy use -- are, in fact, bought as single copies as well as those designed for single-copy sale.

    Although it is not possible on the basis of the present survey to clarify definitions in anything resembling a complete way, the emphasis on what follows is, firstly to identify "coursebooks" 6 and secondly books bought in "class sets": that is, in numbers above 25 but less than 75.

    We can assume that teachers value books in both groups highly, for whatever reason. What this survey has been less successful in showing is any other books which although not bought in large numbers are nevertheless also widely valued -- perhaps as inspiration for teachers’ lesson planning. These books may appear in small numbers in several schools and the questionnaire returns provided some evidence to indicate that departments were more inclined to have a range of books available for teacher use in this way at GCSE level rather than at KS3. On another occasion it would be interesting to find out the per capita spending patterns on pupil texts and various forms of "teacher’s book", at KS3, GCSE and, where appropriate, Sixth Form, attempting to identify any differentiation in purchasing policies between these groups. A more textured case-study approach may be required in order to achieve such an enquiry at sufficient depth. The questionnaire returns can be summarised as follows:

    Key Stage 3. According to the sample of schools surveyed there are possibly four KS3 textbook series with a significant foothold in the market. One series, however, dominates not only in terms of the number of departments which have bought it but also in terms of the number of copies in which departments have been willing to invest. This series, Waugh and Bushell’s Key Geography, published by Stanley Thornes, has virtually cornered the market, to an extent which might be analogous to a form of monoculture; 32 schools (68% of the sample) now using it as a coursebook; indeed one school has purchased 500 copies of each of the three books together with no fewer than seven teacher’s guides. Higginbottam’s Geography Today (1992), the next in the rank list, appears as a coursebook in just four schools (two more have it as class sets). Lambert’s The Cambridge Geography Project (1992) is a coursebook in two schools, a further five having class sets, and Access to Geography (1991) also appears as a coursebook in two schools with a further four having purchased class sets.

    Apart from the one department which has bought into Ross’ Exploring Geography (1991) as a coursebook (and another two which have class sets) the only other significant book purchases at KS3 are of a more specialised nature, mainly to do with the "skills", "physical geography" and "regional" requirements of the national curriculum. Thus, eight departments have recently bought class sets of atlases specifically for KS3 (the Oxford, Longman and Philips in descending rank order) and seven have invested in basic skills books, two of whom have done so in numbers indicating "coursebook" status. Three skills books appear in the returns: Rose’s Basic Skills in Geography (1989), Bateman and Day Steps in Geography (1993), and Martin and Whittle Skills in Geography (1989). Four departments reported purchase of class sets of specialist topic physical geography books such as Jones and Pike’s Active World series (1986) and Introducing Physical Geography (untraced), plus another four mentioned regionally specific publications, including Martin and Whittle People and the EC (1991), the Exploring series (e.g. Das 1994) and the Resource Atlas Italy (Jones 1993). There are signs from this that the particular formulation of the National Curriculum may have nudged departments to a greater commitment to physical and regional geography, thus redressing the perceived decline in such aspects of the study of geography noted by Rex Walford and other commentators in recent years. 7

    GCSE. At the GCSE level the distinction between "coursebook" and "class set" is not so easy to make because the numbers of children studying geography in years 10 and 11 is sometimes far smaller than the key stage 3 cohort. Here we find that the textbook ecology of GCSE geography, compared with KS3, is at first glance even more dominated by a single species. David Waugh’s Key Geography for GCSE has been adopted in 21, or 45%, of our sample schools and The Wider World in a further 16, making a total of 79% of sampled departments apparently basing GCSE courses on this author’s texts. The reach of a single author is extended yet further because we also find sets of The British Isles (5 schools), The World (six schools, one claiming to have 600 copies), Europe (2 schools) and North and South America (one school).

    Within the London sample only two other series have a foothold in the GCSE market: first, Collins Insight Geography (Prosser 1990) is present in at least class sets in seven schools (15%), and in smaller numbers in more departments; it may be significant to note that this three-book series attaches itself, somewhat coyly, to so-called Avery Hill geography syllabuses. Secondly, one department has purchased over 100 copies of the Longman Coordinated Geography (Ross, 1990) a single volume GCSE coursebook. On the other hand, the sampled departments as a group claim to use no fewer than 24 other texts bought in multiple copies either instead of or in addition to the coursebook. The list includes some old favourites such as Bunnett’s General Geography in Diagrams. Indeed, as in KS3, physical geography appears to warrant extra buying -- perhaps, we might surmise, to support a perceived frailty in teachers’ expertise? Other additional purchases at this level seem to have been made to provide enrichment or additional depth: thematic books covering the standard topics, such as "population and settlement", "agriculture and industry", "people and cities" and "energy" seem popular in limited numbers. In addition, and finally, some departments clearly value case study material such as Worldwide Issues (Hart 1985) and World Geography Case Studies (Bunce 1994) even though such material has an obvious tendency to date quickly.

    Thus there is some diversity within the textbook ecosystem, and possibly a little more so at GCSE level in comparison with KS3, despite the dominance of Key Geography and The Wider World. However, the role of multiple copies of book x or book y in relation to the course book is not revealed by this study. What it does suggest is that it would be interesting, and possibly significant, to document the ways in which the dominant course books are used (particularly in relation to texts and other materials which offer alternative formulations and viewpoints) by a mix of interviews with geography teachers and classroom observation.

    There is little doubt that in a less reserved market place than that of secondary school books David Waugh would be hailed as a sensational best-seller. One can certainly speak of the "Waugh effect". With sales figures of more than 2.4 million copies over 10 years or so to Spring 1996, his books seem to have captured, or embodied, the geographical educational paradigm resulting from the establishment of GCSE with its centrally monitored syllabuses and examinations, plus a tightly controlled national curriculum system. The increased accountability of schools and departments over the 1980s and 1990s has obliged teachers to "get through" the content. The pressure has been such that participatory methods of teaching and learning seem to have been avoided, As Rex Walford has observed:

  • . . . the phenomenon of the "single course book" is now encountered more frequently in geography classrooms. . . It would be unfortunate if, mistakenly secure with a book which appears to do everything, hard-pressed geographers were to give up their usual search for alternative formulations and viewpoints. . . . 8
  • The present survey reminds us of an essential point: that there is now a distinct lack of diversity in the learning materials to be found within geography departments, expressed as dependency on a coursebook, compounded by the lack of diversity between schools (dependency on the course book). Though the reassuring and predictable format of double-page spreads and fairly "closed" exercises allows the dominant text to be perceived as being highly usable by teachers and accessible to the children, which presumably explains why such books have sold so well, questions can be raised about the desirability of this form of "monoculture" in geography education. 9 We may ask, for example, whether it is being sufficiently ambitious for our students to expose them only to a geography mediated in one particular, formulaic way.

    Questions such as this suggest at least two further lines of enquiry: firstly, what form of monoculture is established by certain dominant texts, which may require skills of discourse analysis in order to deconstruct long texts? Secondly, how are textbooks actually used with children? How do teachers themselves mediate the text? Answers to these questions may require extended periods of classroom observation, but it is arguable that they are sufficiently important to place before teachers in training and should form the basis of influential action research within and between geography departments. For a fundamental question remains: what exactly is the "Waugh effect"? Is the teaching of geography by and from the book, or is the book purchased as a fallback? Are the teacher’s own notes/ideas/strategies used in addition to the basic, fail-safe diet which the book supplies?

    Twenty-two departments (47%) stated that they planned to purchase textbooks in the (forthcoming) year 1995-6, Many departments had not yet decided and 11 departments (23%) stated they had no plans at the time of the survey. 10 Interestingly, with the onset of revised A level syllabuses written in accordance with the recently established subject core, schools with Sixth Forms had identified this as the current priority. Established Advanced Level texts, such as Hilton’s Process and Pattern in Physical Geography received a mention as did Bradford and Kent’s Understanding Human Geography, Naish and Warn’s long awaited 16-19 Core Geography and Witherick’s Environment and People. Three from an admittedly small sub-group of about 10 schools possessing Sixth Forms were preparing to purchase the second edition of the cleverly -- though not necessarily accurately -- titled Geography: an Integrated Approach, by David Waugh.

    With reference to the compulsory years, 12 departments (26% of the sample) described themselves as undecided and/or waiting for the new GCSE syllabuses before committing themselves to large purchases. This could be a significant finding and possible indication of a gradually more explicit search for the bespoke text; that is, the text written for a particular favoured syllabus. Of course, as the number of approved syllabuses has been reduced, such an approach to textbook writing may be perceived as a more economically attractive proposition to publishers, though it is not one without risks in a "winner-take-all" scenario.

    The largest single response to the question concerning future purchasing plans was fundamentally conservative. Thirty percent of departments expected to devote much of their financial resource to replacements or topping-up existing stock. There is of course a natural inertia, as this illustrates, once a big investment in a textbook series has been made, and within the context of the tight financial circumstances of many geography departments this survey provides some evidence to support the GA’s contention that "most schools . . . find themselves using textbooks and other resources that were written with a different (national curriculum) document in mind".

    Respondents were asked to use a 1-5 scale in recording the strength of influence of a variety of agents or sources of information on geography textbooks. Of the options available the publishers’ inspection service emerged as clearly the most influential, followed by word of mouth (colleagues), publisher’s mail shots, advertising and, in fifth place, book reviews. Teachers, it seems, want to make up their own minds in their own way -- the least influential mode of all was said to be the school visits of publishers’ sales representatives. More open-ended responses tended to confirm this general conclusion; Table 6 lists in order of frequency remarks volunteered by the teachers. It is perhaps worthwhile identifying "absentees". These include the Geographical Association’s Annual Conference, which has not been held in London for some years, and initial and in-service training, neither of which warrant a mention, although it may be that such occasions are the venues for the influence of "colleagues".

     

    Table 6: Open responses to "How do you get to know about books on the market and what influences your purchases?" (no. of responses in brackets).

     

    List A

     

    List B

     

    Colleagues (10)

    Adverts and book reviews in the tes/tg, etc. (9)

    Syllabus needs/"suitability" (6)

    Presentation/colourful/charisma and style (5)

    Dillon’s [Bookshop] (5)

    Advisor (3)

    Literacy level required (3)

    Ease of use/coverage (2)

    Flexibility/usefulness (2)

    Value for money/amount of discount available (2)

    Capability for being photocopied (2)

     

    Real life case studies (2)

    Quality geography (1)

    Pupil response (trials)(1)

    Educational value (1)

    Challenging tasks (1)

    Relevance/topicality (1)

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The responses have been arranged in two lists, broadly differentiating general from subject-specific influences. The former (List A) is longer than the latter although it is quite likely that influences in List A, such as "Colleagues", could be considered subject-specific in some circumstances. Nevertheless, one gets the impression that marketing, appearance and how the product is packaged are as at least as important as the contents of the book, and, crucially, it is how one comes to hear of a book that exerts influence. As in other contemporary markets, such as music and other software industries, there may be a winner-takes-all dynamic whereby the product that is able to first capture the attention of buyers, and be talked about, is that which scoops the headlines and becomes the "star", using what economists call "network externalities". Once star status is established it is then difficult for even qualitatively superior competitors to offer effective challenge to their dominance. 11

    To be sure, the winner has to be "good", or perceived to be so by one set of criteria or another, but the point is that success is disproportionate to quality considerations alone (as, for example, the relative success of Apple and Microsoft in the software market is said by some to witness). The effect is confirmed to a degree by the present survey’s finding that a large majority of departments (32/68%) tends to "select a small number of books to inspect before purchase" rather than "review a wide selection of texts before choosing" (11 departments/23% of the sample). There is certainly no mistaking the extraordinary dominance of a single author in the current geography education market in England and Wales. The survey indicates that this has resulted in part from a process of pre-selection and possibly the operation of network externalities.

    These observations suggest further avenues for research, perhaps travelled none too frequently by educators. The way in which editors recruit and "manage" their authors; how the latter’s writings are turned into what is deemed to be marketable, and how the finished product is marketed, would make a story that might equally surprise and enlighten. Indeed, it may not be over-speculative to suppose that, within the ecological context of attenuated diversity described in this paper, the circumstances may be emerging in England and Wales in which a small number of commissioned authors may be employed to write the officially sanctioned text (or range of texts). Presumably the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) would be the commissioning agent for National Curriculum geography at KS3 and the examination authorities would perform the function in relation to their GCSE syllabuses. The spectacular statistics from the present survey indicating how far teachers are ready for this, in effect preparing the ground for such an eventuality, is that no fewer than 39 departments (83% of the sample) said they would "welcome a text book written for the particular GCSE syllabus" they had chosen to teach. In the meantime, it will be interesting to follow the impact of a slightly different and yet related recent initiative, namely the GA’s prominent endorsement of Jones and Rowlands’ new series Directions. The need for research on the way textbooks are used at present, and the expectations teachers and pupils have of the text is plain once more. Are texts to be followed slavishly or do they merely offer a framework on which to hang the course experience?

    Returning to the present survey, when asked to state what "influenced" their textbook purchases, many teachers may have found they lacked the language to specify the process they go through in order to make a choice. Respondents often used words such as "suitability" and "teachability", which lack precision. And a statement such as "[I look for a book] that is both supportive to weaker pupils and challenging to the brighter ones’, could easily be misinterpreted; it sounds here as if it is the book that is expected to teach! The survey therefore provided a list of ten possible criteria for textbook review or evaluation and asked teachers to place a value (again, using a 1-5 scale) on each. Table 7 shows the criteria in rank order according to geography departmental teachers’ accumulated weightings.

     

    Table 7 Rankings of selected criteria for textbook evaluation

     

    1. How the text is presented and organised.

    2. The forms of exercises and activities that have been included.

    3. Value for money.

    4. = How attractive is the book to young readers (its readability).

    4. = How clearly the key concepts, themes or ideas are signposted.

    6. The quality of photographs or artwork used.

    7. How the contents are organised and expressed.

    8. How people are represented.

    9. Apparent ethos of the book (e.g. in terms of the environment).

    10. Claims made by the publisher.

    Significantly, it is not "the geography" or the author’s "approach" (for example, to the question of how to represent the people of the world on the printed page) that dominates a teacher’s mind when he/she is deciding whether to buy, although certain teachers are acutely aware of cultural, gender and racial issues, regarding which they operate tough vetting criteria. The dominant requirements are that the book should be self-contained, as far as possible, and that pupils can use it easily. Teachers generally are apparently not looking for geography books that excite them; such books may need some form of mediation in order that the children may use them effectively -- in other words extra work. The preferred option is "value for money" whereby the resources for learning, questions and answers are supplied in a package which "covers the course" convincingly. There is a healthy rejection of publishers’ claims, though it is difficult to determine at what level this rejection operates. Perhaps if a book is designed in such a manner that the specified "contents" of the syllabus are demonstrably "covered" (for example, with clear extracts, or double page spreads, of about a lesson’s worth of information and exercises) then the publisher does not have to make claims. Word of mouth and feelings of reassurance derived from "joining the club" will do much of the work in the winner-takes-all marketing scenario of contemporary knowledge and information industries.

    It was noted above that a majority of respondents would welcome textbooks written for specific GCSE syllabuses. Examining both the reasons given to support such a position, as well as hearing some dissenting voices, serves to provide an indirect opening into practitioners’ feelings about the roles and purposes of geography textbooks. Twenty-two responses 12 argued that the syllabus-specific text would be an advantage for economic reasons; there would be no "wasted" pages of "irrelevant" text. Good value-for-money would also be obtainable through a text which "keeps you on the right track", is "convenient" and which "makes [the teacher’s] life easier. Yet more responses argued that such a book would adopt the correct "slant" and pose questions in the "appropriate examination style". Responses such as these seem to point to the textbook in the role of curriculum interpreter, or "level two" curriculum planning to use Rawling’s terminology. 13 To this extent the textbook becomes the de facto scheme of work.

    Dissenting voices, on the other hand, doubted the ability of a single book or series to maintain an even quality for all topics, restricting choice for both teacher and student, and leading to a "double page mentality" and a "conservative approach to teaching". One teacher spoke of a "desire for a good geography book - it doesn"t have to cover the syllabus 100%". Another said that "the quality of writing, its relevance and accuracy are important values to us! Of course, quality writing, however identified, and good geography, however defined, are not precluded by the syllabus-specific text, but what is -- at present -- a small number of teachers fear that standardisation may suffocate diversity, sacrifice innovation and change, and nullify risk taking. If they are right, then in the medium and long term this may spell serious trouble in the form of an ossified and increasingly remote subject discipline resourced and organised in a way that discourages any sense of an educationally balanced child-centredness.

    When asked directly about the main purpose of textbooks in the context of geography education, the most common responses centred on their role in underpinning the basic core of the course with up-todate information and other resources, particularly of "distant places", and in providing a "structured approach and an organisational framework". Forty-six responses were recorded along such lines as these, perhaps unsurprisingly. A few individuals were at pains to emphasise that these functions were as a "supplement to teaching" and that textbooks "were not sufficient on their own". Homework ("an independent learning aid") and "cover" lessons -- "to reduce preparation time" -- were mentioned frequently as was the textbook as pupil motivator, "to stimulate the enquiring mind", which together accounted for another 28 responses. One popular group of responses concerned the "explanation of concepts", perhaps identifying the text in its role as reference, along with comments; such as "background reading" and "revision aid". Although several respondents saw the textbook as a "source of extension tasks" (helping differentiation) others seemed, less realistically, to want the textbook to serve "all ability-levels" and provide "easy access to all pupils".

    The final section of the questionnaire, on educational purpose, seemed to attract less overtly instrumental responses than the speculative question on syllabus specific textbooks. It seems that teachers willingly disassociate examination-oriented and education-oriented discussion. What is at issue, and what the present small-scale survey fails to determine with finality, is which is the dominant orientation when it comes to departmental resource policy and practice. What the survey may be thought to suggest is that examination orientation has become more powerful in recent years, with the annual ritual of published league tables adding extra bite. Only one lonely voice suggested that the main purpose of the geography textbook was "to be read" -- not being flippant and not stating the obvious, this respondent added that few books on the market seemed designed to be read -- it is as if we do not expect young people to read textbooks, but simply"work through" them at the teacher’s instruction. Is this too gloomy a view?

    This small study covers a lot of ground and provides a snapshot of practice in some London schools. The reader must decide how far it claims can be applied more widely. Does the analysis ring true? I have roamed a little beyond the remit of the questionnaire, but never too far and always in the spirit of trying, on the basis of limited but interesting evidence, to open up a wider debate. Embedded in the article are several ideas for the further development of research in the crucial but often strangely ignored field of textbooks. It would be interesting, for example, to enquire of the seven leading educational publishing houses whether there are any "non-core" materials in preparation or recently published, for the recurring theme to this work has been the evident reduction in the diversity of what I called the geography resource ecology. Despite the still vibrant appearance of the geography textbook market with its apparently lavish choice, there is now a real chance that an 11-year-old in school today will go right through to the first year of an undergraduate geography course with but a single geography author as main reference.

    This possibility is interesting to contrast with one of the findings of a recent workshop examining the future of geography education in Iran. 14 In order to improve the quality of textbooks in Iran (the main curriculum document and principal source of guidance to teachers as well as pupils), and to raise the range and quality of learning outcomes, it was concluded that more teachers needed to be involved in the origination of the materials, and that there should be a shift away from the sole reliance on a handful of state-appointed textbook writers. A telling perspectives on current Iranian textbooks came from an 11-year-old girl who put into words her sense of mystery concerning who the books were for and what purpose they were supposed to serve, apart from providing an impressive quantity of factual information to learn. Often, she explained, this was information that was beyond comprehension -- you just learned it for the purposes of the test. There is no chance of returning to such a situation in England and Wales; the structures in place and the capabilities of well-trained teachers are surely insurance enough. On the other hand, it is to be hoped that this paper contributes to a debate that is essential in to helping to prevent any potential loss of something valuable, through its neglect. It is perhaps significant that such a debate is already taking place in Higher Education. 15

     

    Notes

    1. Details and copies of the Questionnaire may be obtained from the author.

    2. The author wishes to thank the co-tutors who, with the help of PGCE students, helped furnish him with the data upon which this study was based.

    3. "The Secondary Education Section Committee of the Geographical Association Geography in the Secondary School, Issues arising from the results of a questionnaire sent to secondary schools in the Spring of 1995 (Sheffield: The Geographical Association, 1996).

    4. Ibid. p. 5.

    5. For purposes of comparison, it is worthwhile noting that the EPC recorded the following figures for expenditure on books in secondary school geography departments in England and Wales in 1994: <£250 (13.8%), £250-500 (20.3%), £500-1000 (25.7%), £1000-2500 (27.5%), >£2500 (5.5%), no reply (7.2%). N=276. Source; Osborn, T. and Watson, R. School Book Buying Survey 1994-95 (EPC: October, 1995).

    6. A rule of thumb has been applied whereby texts purchased in numbers above 75 copies have been designated as "coursebooks".

    7. Walford, R. "Geography 15-19: retrospect and prospect". In Geography into the Twenty-first Century, ed. Rawling E.M. and Daugherty, R.A. (Chichester: John Wiley, 1996) pp. 135-138.

    8. Walford in Rawling pp. 139-40.

    9. See for example Roberts, M., "Teaching styles and strategies". In Geography in Education: Viewpoints on Teaching and Learning, ed. Kent, A. et at. (CUP, 19??) p. 248.

    10. October 1995.

    11. Diane Coyle has described how certain products become ever more popular exactly because many people use them. there is a critical mass of usage which establishes the network which can see off competition. "Shrinking Costs Mean That Anyone Can Be A Star" Independent 18.4.96 p. 24. Quah shows how this well-documented effect becomes more widespread with the development of information technologies and the "dematerialised" economy of ideas, software and design. It is perhaps easier than ever to enter certain markets (including publishing), but the network externalities operating in the congested, complex marketplace make it easier for a single product (book) to dominate. Quah D. The invisible hand and the weightless economy. Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, March 1996.

    12. Some teachers gave more than one response.

    13. See Rawling E. M. "The impact of the National Curriculum on school-based curriculum development". In Kent, A., Lambert D. , Naish M. and Slater F. eds. Geography in Education: Viewpoints on Teaching and Learning (Cambridge University Press, 1996) p. 102, in which level I signifies the plan at the national level and level 3 the classroom level.

    14. The week-long workshop was held in Teheran in February 1996, led by David Waugh and the author, See Lambert and Waugh Geography education in Iran: a report (University of London Institute of Education, 1996).

    15. . Davey, J et al. Issues and trends. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 19 (1995) pp. 11-27

     

    References

    Coyle, Diane "Shrinking costs mean that anyone can be a starter". Independent (18/4/1996) p. 24

    Davey, J et al. "Issues and trends in textbook publishing: the views of geography

    editors/publishers. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 19 (1995) pp. 11-27.

    Lambert, D. and Waugh, D. Geography education in Iran: a report (University of London Institute of Education, 1996).

    Osborn, T. and Watson, R. School Book Buying Survey 1994-5 (Educational Publishers’ Council, 1995).

    Quah, D. "The invisible hand and the weightless economy" (Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, March 1996).

    Rawling, E. M. "The impact of the National Curriculum on school-based curriculum development". In Kent, A., Lambert D. , Nalsh M. and Slater F. eds. Geography in Education (Cambridge University Press, 1996) p. 102.

    Roberts, M. "Teaching Styles and Strategies". In Kent A., Lambert D., Naish M. and Slater F. eds. Geography in Education (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

    Secondary Education Section Committee of the Geographical Association Geography in the Secondary School. issues arising from the results of a questionnaire sent to secondary schools in the Spring of 1995 (Sheffield: The Geographical Association, 1996)

    Walford, R. "Geography 15-19: retrospect and prospect". In Rawling E. M. and Daugherty, R. A. eds. Geography into the Twenty-first century (John Wiley, 1996) pp. 135-138.

    Textbooks cited

    Bateman D. and Day T. Steps into Geography (Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes, 1993)

    Bradford M. and Kent A. Understanding Human Geography: people and their changing environments (Oxford University Press, 1993)

    Bunce, V. World Geography: Case Studies (Cambridge University Press, 1994)

    Bunnett, N. B. General Geography in Diagrams (Harlow: Longman, 1973).

    Das, P. Exploring India (Hodder and Stoughton, 1994).

    Day M., Grenyer R. and Chapman S, Oxford Geography Programme (Oxford University Press, 1994)

    Hart C. (series ed.) Worldwide Issues in Geography (Collins, 1985)

    Higginbottam, T. (series ed) Geography Today NC Edition (Collins Educational, 1992)

    Hilton, K. Process and Pattern in Physical Geography (Collins Educational, (1985)

    Jones, D. (series advisor) Resource Atlas (Harlow: Collins-Longman Atlases, 1993).

    Jones, D. and Rowland, G. Directions (Hodder and Stoughton, 1996).

    Jones, P. and Pike, B. (series eds.) The Active World, (Leeds: Arnold-Wheaton, 1986)

    Kemp, R. and Maclean D. (consultant eds.) Geography for GCSE (Macdonald Educational, 1988)

    Kemp, R. (series ed.) Access to Geography (Oxford University Press, 1991).

    Lambert, D. Cambridge Geography Project (Cambridge University Press, 1991).

    Martin, F. and Whittle A. Skills in Geography (Oxford (Heinemann, 1989).

    People and the European Community (Oxford: Heinemann Educational, 1991).

    Naish, M. and Warn S. (series eds.) 16-19 Core Geography (Longman, 1994)

    Prosser, R. (series ad.) Insight Geography (Collins Educational, 1990)

    Rose, D. Basic Skills in Geography (Oxford University Press, 1989)

    Ross, S . Exploring Geography, Harlow (Longman, 1991)

    Ross, S. (series ed.) Longman Coordinated Geography (Longman, 1991)

    Waugh D. The British Isles (Walton on Thames: Thomas Nelson, 1985)

    North and South America (Nelson, 1985)

    Europe (Nelson, 1985)

    The World (Nelson, 1987).

    Geography:an Integrated Approach (Nelson, 1990)

    Key Geography for GCSE (Stanley Thornes, 1994)

    The Wider World (Nelson, 1994)

    Waugh, D. and Bushell T. Key Geography (Stanley Thornes, 1991).

    Witherick, M. (general ed.) Environment and People: an integrated course forA and AS geography (Stanley Thornes, 1995).

     

    [An earlier version of this paper was given at the London Institute Colloquium. held in May 1996. Ed.]


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